What do all these sports people have in common?
Andy Murray (tennis), Roy Keane (football) James Harrison (NFL) Mike Brown (Rugby).
They're all internationally recognised and they've all played at world class level within their disciplines.
So what's their relevance to this article?
They've all been documented for having outbursts on the playing field. Whether its frustration, verbal outbursts or just down right displays of anger, at some point during competitive play they've all let their emotions affect of them during game play.
In Mike Browns interview with the telegraph he touches on his nickname 'Mr Angry':
“I don’t think it’s about being Mr Angry. It’s about being competitive and wanting to win. I try and stand up for myself – or a team-mate.”
The English Rugby player's interview explores his successes with the national side and explores his well documented emotional prowess during his games and how he uses his emotions to better his performances on the pitch.
In a separate telegraph article a journalist approaches him directly about his temper on the pitch:
In fact, so competitive is Brown, so ferociously, intensely determined to make the most of what he’s got, that he has seemed a candidate for anger management therapy at times. He throws up his arms in mock frustration when you broach the subject. “Not that Mr Angry stuff again,” he sighs. Does it make him, well, angry dealing with the allegation? “Sometimes, but I can’t change that. It’s weird, because off the pitch I’m quite a shy, introverted person, yet as soon as I step over the white line I’m chirping at my own team-mates and the opposition.
“I can’t change that. It goes back to when I started out playing rugby. I thought I’m not the biggest so I’ll need to be able to look after myself. I remember a game where I was getting knocked about a bit and I was determined to stand up for myself to make sure that people wouldn’t mess me about. I think I grabbed an opponent and pushed him or something just to show that I wasn’t an easy target. I was 11 at the time.”
Andy Murray expressing his frustrations at Wimbledon.
Often the difference between a great player and an amazing player is the ability to manage and utilise the physiological side effects of an emotional reaction to game play. We've all seen or experienced bad behaviour in some way on the track. Ever heard your coach say 'They/she/he have lost their head' before? It might be the opposition losing it, your team mates or just within yourself. The one thing that's for sure is that left unchecked frustration and bad behaviour manifests itself into an all consuming, energy draining performance altering monster.
I've had bouts with my league where I've let my heightened emotions manifest into frustration and ultimately anger and poor performance on the track. Although I personally don't have verbal or physical outbursts these 'episodes' have had a detrimental affect on my performance and my team mates experience for the rest of the game.
When I'm in a fix of frustration it's like wearing a set of blinkers, my adrenaline spikes, I'm ready to fight (not flight) and I don't think clearly. I'm unable to focus and I take risks on the track, usually landing me in the sin bin through lack of focus and an over zealous or mistimed hit. This is usually followed by a distinct sense of embarrassment and a round of apologies to my team and coaches. It's worth noting that ths is not every game but tends to be the games where pressures whether external or internal are present.
Emotions and pressure play hand in hand with each other in sport, and as the competition becomes hotter for roster spaces and the bouts we play have more effect on our leagues positioning within Europe it has become a critical focal point for our squad to work on mental toughness and focus in games.
You can check out this very relevant article about pressure here:
But having heightened emotions is not all bad. When I'm able to channel this intensity, passion and drive and direct it into my game, the results are quite different. Instead of feeling like I need to fight harder or take risks I feel in control, focused, determined. The adrenaline sharpens my reactions and enables me to make quick decisions and respond in a physical but disciplined manner.
So how do you stop yourself turning into an uncontrollable she-hulk and produce competitive and focused results? With a little bit of determination, a spoonful of humility and the drive to become a better skater.
A brief science bit:
Wikipedia's definition of emotion is "positive or negative experience that is associated with a particular pattern of physiological activity."
When we have an emotional reaction to an event our bodies are programmed to release chemicals, hormones and increase arousal levels which in turn trigger physical reactions.
Each persons release of hormones and reaction to external arousal will be different. Adrenaline is probably the most recognisable of the hormones having a marked effect on the heart and lungs increasing the ability to pump blood and get oxygen into the body faster. It also has an effect on your metabolism, slowing down the production of insulin in the body and speeding up the body's breakdown of stored glycogen to flood your muscles with much needed fuel (glucose). These internal reactions manifest them self in external reactions such as sweating, increased heart rate and breathing, raised body temperature, increased strength and speed. This hormone is responsible for what is known as our primal 'fight or flight' reactions. In sports adrenaline surges in and are particularly prominent during contact activities.
Other chemicals and hormones that are released include testosterone, oestrogen, serotonin and dopamine. These all affect the body in different ways. As you are unable to physically control the release of your hormones there are a few other ways you can address these surges in these mood and performance altering chemicals.
There are techniques used by many athletes to channel these reactions. Deep regular breathing, trigger words and visualisation are just a few.
Before I get on track and after we have had our team mental warm up I tend to listen to a playlist of music which is filled with happy songs, tracks that really get me pumped and ready to dance along to. I find if I listen to anything too melancholy or angry/heavy it reflects in my behaviour on track. I also write on my forearm three trigger words. I use these to check in with myself when I feel I'm getting out of control. This can be on the jam line, in the penalty box or when we're back on the bench. An example of these words from a recent bout: 'Courage, Focus and Discipline'.
When I'm on track and everything's getting under way I make sure I recognise when I'm getting physical changes. I know when I'm getting hot and heady and I can feel myself getting snappy on track. I know when my heart rate is rising and when I feel like I can't 'see' anything on the track. These are my personal warning signs and its taken a few years to recognise them. Its pretty easy to get wrapped up in the moment and before you know it you're out of control and past the point of recovery from a frustration fix.
To close, there is no real secret fix to frustration in your performance. The same as you practice week in and week out perfecting moves and plays, you should be spending time working on your mental performance and focus too. Remember, if you do have an episode, the only way you can begin the journey to bringing your inner hulk back under control is to first accept that an episode has happened and secondly be ready and willing to take responsibility for it. Only you are able to change or manage your behaviour, not the refs, not the audience, not your team mates. You and you alone.
The journey to becoming a more mature and focused player first starts with acceptance and the will power to change.
You wont always be able to control yourself, but the more you chip away and acknowledge your feelings and want to change, the smoother the process to becoming a better skater mentally will be.